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October 5, 2009TUSCALOOSA _ University of Alabama junior quarterback Greg McElroy is already sick of the question.
"How come you can't get the ball to Julio Jones more?"
It's almost a roll-your-eyes type of question because he's seemingly getting it from just about everyone.
"Just because Julio isn't catching balls doesn't mean he's not involved," McElroy said Monday. "He's very involved. There are four eyes on him every time he comes near the ball, the safety and the corner. He makes a difference whether he catches a ball or not.
"He's a great player and that's why we can't get him the ball sometimes. Honestly, I'm going to put the ball where my reads take me. The fact that Julio is such a great target, and a great talent, people are going to do their best to limit his touches and production. We're very fortunate because unlike years past we haven't always had a lot of solid wide receivers, but now we do. We have great players who don't even start on Saturdays."
Still, the dropoff in production has been surprising considering Jones caught 58 passes for 924 yards last season, which was 38.6 percent of the Crimson Tide's passing yards, while next among wide receivers was Mike McCoy with 191 yards on 16 catches.
Through five games this season, Jones has just nine receptions, which is tied with Darius Hanks for third on the team, for 133 yards. That's just 11 percent of the Tide's 1,173 receiving yards.
"It's a combination of several things," Coach Nick Saban said. "I think first of all, the guy has been a little bit hurt. He missed a game, really actually missed two games. He missed almost all of one game and the next game. He's worked hard to try and get back to where he was.
"I do think he gets a significant amount of attention in the game and I think that creates opportunities for other people, which really without developing statistics, you are doing a lot to help your team win. I also think that we continue to try and get him involved in what we can do. He has been on top of people and we haven't gotten him the ball. I think if he continues to do the things he is doing his time's going to come."
So far, others have reaped the rewards, with Alabama having a different player lead the team in receiving each game after Jones had four catches for 46 yards against Virginia Tech. When he took a helmet to the knee against Florida International, McCoy stepped in and made five catches for 100 yards while running many of the same routes. Sophomore Marquis Maze (four catches for 40 yards) enjoyed his turn against North Texas, both Roy Upchurch and Mark Ingram had three catches out of the backfield against Arkansas, and Saturday was senior tight end Colin Peek's breakthrough game with six catches for 65 yards and his first touchdown for the Tide.
Generally, though it's not like Alabama mandates it has to get the ball to one particular person, and McElroy estimated that 50 percent of his attempts have been to the primary target, with 30 percent to the second option and the rest to the third and fourth reads.
"There is an old saying, if you take what the defense gives they will eventually give you the game," Saban said. "So, if the people aren't open or they are dropping deep in zone and taking the vertical throws away and you drop the ball down to the check down and the guy gains six, eight 10 yards, that's a positive play.
"We have good guys and that's just another opportunity to get them the ball in space. I think the tight end is probably the best mismatched player on the field. I've always said that, in terms of who is covering him, where he lines up and how he gets defended. All these things are positives in my opinion."
It's hard to argue with the results considering that Alabama is 5-0 (2-0 SEC), has scored 30 points in each of the first five games for the first time since 1979, and has better offensive numbers across the board than a year ago. The Crimson Tide is ranked eighth nationally in scoring offense (40.0), ninth in passing efficiency (161.53), and tenth in rushing offense (228.2).
It's "only" 14th in total offense (462.8). Last year, Alabama was 63rd (355.79).
"When my reads take me elsewhere, I'm not going to force it," McElroy said.